Why Nollywood practitioners seek better health deal for sector
There is no doubt of the fact that Nigerian movie industry, generally referred as Nollywood, has contributed immensely to the country’s revenue, and as well, created jobs despite infrastructural defficiency and minimal government support. Started in the early 1990s, the sector has grown to be a leader in the world, producing over a thousand movie a year. As the Nigerian movie industry through private ingenuity and creativity expands, giving room to creative expression and freedom, it provides direct and indirect jobs to different categories of people, including, those operating at the fringe of creative ventures.
According to analysts, the sector has become the second largest employer of labour in the country, recording a breaking revenue of ₦1.72 trillion (US$11 billion) in 2013 and contributing five per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).With such rosy background, you will expect practitioners in the industry to be better off the ordinary Nigerian, but this is not exactly so, as fame, to many of them, remains a flash in the pan.
They are one-step forward today, rising to their peaks, and many steps backwards tomorrow, sinking into the sands like people that have never experienced wealth. Many live from hand to mouth and can hardly take care of their personal needs. The worse of it all is that many of them depend on good spirited-Nigerians or corporate organisations to bail them out whenever they have any health challenge.
Most times, these interventions come late or come with less the amount needed at a particular time. Many unfortunate ones have passed on when they could not raise enough money to get better treatment abroad or even within the country. In the last two years, the sector has lost scores of its members, both in the English and local language movie genres — to some preventable and curable diseases.
This is beginning to raise some worries amount their fans, who wonder why a multibillion sector cannot take care of its own, while calling on stakeholders, including adjunct organisations to come up with solutions that will mop up some of the challenges these artist(e)s face in the course of their duties, especially their health challenges.
Some groups are of the view that if nothing is done now and fast to save the sector from itself by allowing health maintenance organisations (HMOs) to come in, the Nigerian movie industry might end up not being able to project the image of the country and its culture to the world as expected or even maintain its position among comity of movie producing nations.
Founder and President of Eko International Film Festival (EKOIFF), Hope Opara, said it would be a great relieve if every member of all the federating groups that make up the movie industry belongs to one HMO or has a health insurance policy. The EKOIFF boss disclosed that he has been a beneficiary of such facility in the past when he took ill, adding that though the HMOs service are limited by the agreement reached while engaging them, they are, however, better than not having any. He noted that after the initial treatment given to him, he had to personally foot the bills of other treatments, locally.
The veteran filmmaker, Eddie Ugboma, is not, however, comfortable with the HMOs services, because as he said, they are not comprehensive enough and you also have to go to only recommend hospitals in the country. He noted that he has been seriously sick since last year and needs N45 million to go abroad to fully treat himself.
According to him, because the HMOs cannot afford this huge sum of money, he is now putting his various intellectual and landed properties for sale to raise fund for his treatment. The award-winning filmmaker disclosed that sufferings filmmakers and actors in the industry are currently facing are as a result of government neglect for the sector.
He noted that actors and filmmaker are the main image maker of the nation and should be treated as such. The veteran filmmaker noted that government is expected to take care of their image-makers as a way to motivate others to do more for the country, especially correcting the negative opinions outsiders hold about the country.
Speaking on reasons the Nollycare, a health insurance scheme, initiated by the Association of Movie Producers (AMP) could not work, the former Secretary General of AMP, Forster Ojehonmon, said the initiative took a different dimension when the Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN) and other guilds in Nollywood abandoned it for AMP, owing to some disagreement, which later led to its death.
“The then DGN President, who was part of the initiative pulled out from the scheme, taking many members with him to other guilds. This action jeopardised our proposed healthcare scheme. Despite this, a few of us still continued with Nollycare, but it completely died when ROK Studios (Iroko TV) paid for a number of filmmakers with another HMO.“The workability of an HMO depends on the number of participants. Until all of us in the industry learn to be cooperative and do things as one, we shall continue to have this division among us,” he said.
The U.S. based Nigerian entertainer and actor, Bob Ejike, while lamenting how the Nigerian movie industry is allowing its members to die uncared for, called on government to set up health insurance initiative that should take care of those in the creative industry, adding that Nollywood was conceptualised to give Nigerians and Africans a voice in world media, where the people’s reality can be expressed independent of Western sponsors dictating the scripts and imposing negative stereotypes on Africans.
According to him, Nollywood constitutes the greatest public relations image making platform for Nigeria, but the filmmakers and actors who sacrifice everything including, their health to create the third biggest movie industry for Nigeria and have neither wealth nor pension are dropping dead like chickens in the height of their fame when they can still generate fortunes for the country.
Describing the situation as epidemic, he said it is the duty of government to give these patriots a pension and health insurance to see them through old age and life challenges.He said: “These entertainers have devoted their lives to giving Nigeria and, indeed, Africa the third biggest movie industry in the world and they are dying wretched, because successive governments didn’t find it worthwhile to protect their rights. They are dying in the height of their productivity when their fame can generate more wealth for the country. It is the duty of the government and Nigerians to stop our stars from dying by declaring a special status for them and giving them pension and health insurance.
“Five years ago, I returned to Nigeria and took a job as editor for a new magazine a very challenging job. I started falling ill and could you believe it that hospitals were on strike for most part of the year. So, I submitted my resignation and literally fled to the U.S. Needless to say, I would have been history by now if I had dared to remain in the country.“I could utilise this option, because I am also a European citizen. What about my less fortunate comrades-at-arts? Do they really have to die? People talk about the gradual demise of Nollywood. It is people that make up an industry, so, if the skilled and experienced protagonists are allowed to perish, what becomes of the industry?
“Every Nigerian is a stakeholder in Nollywood, so, the extermination of our talented minds by harsh economic situation should be a national emergency. Our stars are dying also because we are not buying their films. Some not-so-cerebral individuals boast that they don’t watch Nollywood, as if that is a nice thing. Government should intervene as a matter of urgency and save our talented artistes,” he said.
Ejike stressed that other ways to enrich these entertainers is to invest heavily in the industry, saying that film industries do not just spring up, rather they are supported by government through the buying of shares, creation of enabling environment including, legislation for the growth of creative works and others.
“Industry protagonists are, therefore, seen as intellectual capital to be protected and preserved with various forms of pension and insurance, for continuity and reinvestment; they are not to be abandoned and scoffed at till death, as is the case in Nigeria. Talented people who generate jobs, businesses, bring in foreign exchange and package and export our culture to the world, bringing international respect and admiration to the country. They should not be exploited throughout their lives and then left to starve to death or be eliminated by minor ailments,” he said.
On why most filmmakers do not have health insurance scheme or HMO, Isioma Williams, Founder, Drumview Concepts, revealed that sustenance of the scheme is the major key to operating it.
According to him, artistes are willing to take up health insurance, but sustainability is the major challenge, because a good number of Nigerian actors do not have regular or steady incomes to feed themselves and cater for their daily needs, less servicing their insurance policies.
The drummer believes the movie industry is in its current dilemma as a result of practitioners’ inability to regulate it, thereby making the industry an all-comers affair for anybody with little or no knowledge of its operations to come in and call the shots because he or she has the money to make films.
Williams revealed that this openness has led to loss of jobs for core professionals, as some amateurs get peanuts to do what the trained professionals are suppose to do, which to a large extent has impacted the economy of these professionals and also structure. He said: “There is no regular job in the industry or even regulations on how much an artiste should be paid in a production. Many are owned for months, yet there is no regulatory body or guild they could run to, to help them recover their money. Many artistes do not even have enough money or could even sustain themselves; so, whenever they are sick, they look on to loved ones for help or depend on good spirited Nigerians or fans for fund. Some even go to the extent of selling their properties all, because there is no structure on which any meaningful welfare package could stand all because of some people’s greed and self-centeredness, which have brought us this far.”
According to Williams, the only way out of this tight corner is for the various associations and guilds to come together to seriously consider how to regulate the creative industry to make practitioners earn good money and have other fringe benefits like in other sectors.
For the President, Oreofe films and The City of Talents, Oreofe Oludare Williams, the situation is not as gloomy as it is painted, saying many of the artistes are not only financially reckless, but live ostentatious lifestyle, which makes them to live from hand to mouth.
According to him, an actor’s income might not be as big as one thinks, but once a man cuts his coat according to his cloth, he is likely to stay above water.
“I have seen people who try to meet up social expectations, who try to impress and oppress instead of them to express what they really are. Peer pressure, social competition and awkward expenses could drain up the richest billionaire in the world. So, no matter how much an actor receives, if he chooses to rent an expensive accommodation at Lekki (upscale community) when he should get a room at Mushin, he is likely to run into trouble. There are artistes who bite more than they can chew. They want to compare themselves with the established icons and buy N50million car on installment, thereby forgetting the rainy day.
“The truth is there are civil servants who earn less than N30,000 a month and still have things to show with their lean incomes. There are actors who earn more than N100,000 every week or even millions, yet there is nothing to show for it. Those in the creative industry need this knowledge to give the industry its desired pride,” he said. Oreofe films and The City of Talents headman urged artistes to be multi-tasking, do other things when not producing, stressing that earnings from such endeavours would always keep them afloat.
Stressing on Medicare, he disclosed that such issue is a function of the economy and the various associations in the industry, adding that most would never think of it for now until their economy improves.Oreofe disclosed that except one is a distributor, no Nigerian actor can survive in the country with acting alone.
On what is expected of government in this regards, he said government cannot do all things, but the practitioners themselves are to champion their course, prepare grounds for stakeholders to come in and for young ones to build their career and develop the industry. “Government is to provide social amenities, which stand as introductory platforms for citizens to engage the creative industry and then introduce other benefits. If the industry is not structure and practitioners united there would be no meaningful success and practitioners would continue to suffer untold hardship,” he said.
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